|The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County|
|This is the famous
jumping frog tale, here told in its original form, it was the first story that launched
Clemens into the national spotlight. It was picked up and reprinted by many papers of the
day, and did quite a bit to spread his name nationwide and launch his career. Here is Twain's first nationally famous
In compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me to death with some exasperating reminiscence of him as long and as tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it succeeded.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the bar-room stove of the dilapidated tavern in the decayed mining camp of Angel's, and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up, and gave me good-day. I told him a friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished companion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. Smiley - Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, a young minister of the Gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of Angel's Camp. I added that if Mr. Wheeler could tell me anything about this Rev. Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel under many obligations to him.
Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned his initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity, which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse. I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once.
"Rev. Leonidas W. H'm, Reverend Le - well, there was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of '49 - or may be it was the spring of '50 - I don't recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume warn't finished when he first came to the camp; but any way, he was the curiosest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side; and if he couldn't he'd change sides. Any way that suited the other man would suit him - any way just so's he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still he was lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner. He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldn't be no solit'ry thing mentioned but that feller'd offer to bet on it, and take ary side you please, as I was just telling you. If there was a horse-race, you'd find him flush or you'd find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, he'd bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, he'd bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; or if there was a camp-meeting, he would be there reg'lar to bet on Parson Walker, which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was too, and a good man. If he even see a straddle-bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get to - to wherever he was going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smiley and can tell you about him. Why, it never made no difference to him - he'd bet on any thing - the dangest feller. Parson Walker's wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warn't going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley up and asked him how she was, and he said she was considerable better - thank the Lord for his inf'nit mercy - and coming on so smart that with the blessing of Prov'dence she'd get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, "Well, I'll risk two-and-a-half she don't anyway."
|Thish-yer Smiley had a mare - the boys called her the
fifteen-minute nag, but that was only in fun, you know, because of course she was faster
than that - and he used to win money on that horse, for all she was so slow and always had
the asthma, or the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They used to
give her two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; but always at the
fag-end of the race she'd get excited and desperate-like, and come cavorting and
straddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air, and sometimes
out to one side amongst the fences, and kicking up m-o-r-e dust and raising m-o-r-e racket
with her coughing and sneezing and blowing her nose - and always fetch up at the stand
just about a neck ahead, as near as you could cipher it down.
And he had a little small bull-pup, that to look at him you'd think he warn't worth a cent but to set around and look ornery and lay for a chance to steal something. But as soon as money was up on him he was a different dog; his under-jaw'd begin to stick out like the fo'-castle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover and shine like the furnaces. And a dog might tackle him and bully-rag him, and bite him, and throw him over his shoulder two or three times, and Andrew Jackson - which was the name of the pup - Andrew Jackson would never let on but what he was satisfied, and hadn't expected nothing else - and the bets being doubled and doubled on the other side all the time, till the money was all up; and then all of a sudden he would grab that other dog jest by the j'int of his hind leg and freeze to it - not chaw, you understand, but only just grip and hang on till they throwed up the sponge, if it was a year.
Smiley always come
out winner on that pup, till he harnessed a dog once that didn't have no hind legs,
because they'd been sawed off in a circular saw, and when the thing had gone along far
enough, and the money was all up, and he come to make a snatch for his pet holt, he see in
a minute how he'd been imposed on, and how the other dog had him in the door, so to speak,
and he 'peared surprised, and then he looked sorter discouraged-like, and didn't try no
more to win the fight, and so he got shucked out bad. He gave Smiley a look, as much as to
say his heart was broke, and it was his fault, for putting up a dog that hadn't no hind
legs for him to take holt of, which was his main dependence in a fight, and then he limped
off a piece and laid down and died. It was a good pup, was that Andrew Jackson, and would
have made a name for hisself if he'd lived, for the stuff was in him and he had genius - I
know it, because he hadn't no opportunities to speak of, and it don't stand to reason that
a dog could make such a fight as he could under then them circumstances if he hadn't no
talent. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of that last fight of his'n, and the
way it turned out.
Mark Twains stories about his experiences prospecting in the west, including many more humorous tales of his adventures can be found in his book: ROUGHING IT
|Early day mining in California's gold country mines.|
|The Celebrated Jumping frog of Calaveras County, California.|
Please note that the author, Chris Ralph, retains all copyrights to this entire document and it may not be reproduced, quoted or copied without permission.
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